Anthony Desiato writes …
“Folks with powers: It’s their world. We just live in it.”
During its annual round of advance pilot screenings as part of Comic-Con International: San Diego’s Preview Night, Warner Bros. Television unveiled the series premiere of Powerless, an NBC single-camera workplace sitcom set in the DC Universe. Compared to the rest of its comics-to-TV brethren, Powerless occupies a singular space with its comedic nature and ground-level civilian perspective.
Despite some cartoonish CGI (though, in fairness, it is a sitcom), Powerless offers a generally humorous and promising first outing. This is due in large part to the chemistry among its cast, which includes Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, High School Musical) and Comic-Con favorites Danny Pudi (Community) and Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Con Man).
The pilot follows the workers of Retcon, an insurance company in Charm City that routinely pays out claims arising out of damage and injury caused by super-powered melees. Though they are often overlooked in traditional depictions, it turns out falling debris and surge pricing are very real problems for the citizens of Charm City.
For our protagonist, claims adjuster Emily (Hudgens), being able to make victims of collateral damage whole again gives her job meaning. This purpose is upended by the arrival of her new boss, Del (Tudyk), whose reading material consists of The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor and who charges his new employees with denying as many claims as possible. Tudyk shines as the occasionally sinister, mostly bumbling, Del.
Almost every corner of the DC Universe gets name-checked in the pilot, from Atlantis to Themyscira; though the only DC characters we actually meet are the relatively obscure Crimson Fox and Jack O’Lantern. A particularly amusing running bit has two Retcon employees convinced that their bespectacled colleague is actually Green Lantern.
By taking the familiar trappings of a workplace comedy — a buffoonish boss, quirky supporting characters, and the hint of a will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Emily and Pudi’s faithful sidekick Teddy — and giving them a comic book spin, the pilot mines humor from a world that is usually taken very seriously on screen. As such, it is worth a look when it arrives on NBC’s mid-season schedule.
Anthony Desiato can be reached at @DesiWestside on Twitter.